Your Own Pace

I gazed at the old wall of red bricks, stacked and mortared one by one in an earlier time by what are now old hands. The rattle of the old vents offered a necessary element of white noise beneath the resonant tones of meditative music and the gentle voice of Dawn, this evening’s yoga instructor.

On a wooden floor on a corner in downtown Asbury Park, I was in surf shop, at night, practicing yoga with strangers.

The pace of instruction was faster than any pace at which I’ve ever operated. My less than nimble body refused to assume some of the postures I suggested it try out. With more than two decades of being trained as sitter and a thinker and a test-taker, my body had habituated to certain tasks, and this is reflected in my current physiology.

The good news is that the body responds to what you ask of it. And today I am inviting it to practice yoga. I skip many of the sequences, preferring to modify and hold and breathe at a pace that befits my own tempo. Much has been said regarding my particular style and tempo, and “quick” and “fast” are adjectives not commonly used.

At one point during the session, we were asked to rest, close our eyes, and find a place of peace. As soon as my eyelids had closed I was looking through the window of a car. I was heading north, crossing the San Francisco Bay via the Richmond Bridge. The water was that green-blue it gets when the sun is out and there was a large cargo tanker in the distance. From the height of this bridge, you could see in every direction, and the sense I had was not that I was leaving San Francisco as much as heading toward someplace quieter, greener, and with a pace much more akin to my own.

 

Nemesis

It’s a simple proposition, really.

Good is the enemy of Great.

Enemy does not necessarily mean opposite. If this were the case, it would make more sense to say, “Dismal is the enemy of Great”. Yet Dismal does not calmly lie in the middle of the road to Great. With it’s emphasis on moderation and safety, Good effectively blocks the way with its neutral inertia.

Good yields the status quo, a common denominator, and is radical only in that it will expend massive resource in an attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy.

I am not anti-Good. Good plays an important and essential role in the cycles of experience and in the progression of life.  My point is that if Good is the goal toward which we are striving, the desired end we imagine for ourselves, then success will be attainable – and ultimately unfulfilling.

Without the stretch that uncouples us from certainty, Good will not be overcome. The step into the poetry of possibility is what allows for a new unfolding of the path, one away from the secure dictate of probability.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about the lowland perspective of Good. It is often where we begin and where we return at different points in the cycle. The question is whether that perspective is enough, and if not, what kind of risk and what kind of poiesis we need in order to see from an alpenview.

Return

 

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Why do we return to the places of our youth, especially those places that once held promise and mystery? Perhaps it is in the hope that the mystery remains, that it can be rediscovered. That even with the passing cycles of time and the often-heavy price that “progress” exacts on natural spaces, we can reorient our bearings from a place that still holds meaning.

I grew up near a quiet coppery stream in the low lands. The sandy soil gives rise to pitch pine, American holly, and a few varieties of oak. Of our horizontal cousins, squirrels are the most common, with the occasional chipmunk or mallard duck. Every once in a while you may come across deer, and every once in a rare while, a stag.

Between the noise, air, and water pollution, and the continuous human imposition on the surrounding area, the boundaries of the open space are shrinking. It is too frighteningly similar to a boxed display in a museum or a caged animal in a zoo.

Time in the mountains of the West irrevocably altered the scope and scale of what natural space meant to me. Whereas explorations into my own backyard mixed being in the woods with a sense of imagination, journeys to the High Places became pilgrimages. In the music and the silence of the mountains, in the companionship of solitude, the heavy fetters of the lower mind are lifted like the smoke curling off of a campfire.

And then there is the return.

The descent back down the mountain is the gift you give to the world, just as the world gave you the gift of the mountain. Returning to the lowlands, the population, and the energetic buzz of society paints a stark contrast against the alpenglow of the mountain. It reasserts the challenges we had when we left as well as offering new ones. The cycle of descent and ascent is the noetic and experiential commerce we agreed to by being human.  Simply,

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can.

The Great Dance

From the ballroom of the Heavens to the twinkling steps of the quantum world, there has always been Form and Void…and Music.

The atomic tradition begun by Leucippus emphasized that the manifest world is composed of indivisible objects called atoms, and that these atoms are many and are in motion, which requires room for them to maneuver.

But why do the atoms move?  Lucretius offers the clinamen or swerve. This “most minute of movements” is enough to randomly and frequently initiate the collisions and combinations of atoms that generate the physical world.

Traditionally, the attempt to answer this question splits into two arguments: “it’s a random physical process” and “there is a plan”. Taking a wide berth around the trailhead to that road, there is a third option.

If we operate from the premise that Form does not exist without Sound, we have a basis for atomic motion, a mechanism for the physical process, and an account for the logos observed in the universal dance.

Atoms are moved by the primal Sound that is the Ground of Being. They dance – some more freely and wildly than others, but every atom at the very least is tapping their figurative toe. They dance because the Music of the Kosmos is indivisible from the very nature of the atom.

Since not all atoms are moved in the same way, they behave differently. This leads to the variety of ways they combine to generate the manifest world. There is always an element of randomness – the wildcard. When the conditions are right, a shy atom might take everything and everyone by surprise and swerve. Far from upsetting the balance of the system, this new pattern reorganizes the status quo and shifts the whole system to a new level of complexity. This is happening constantly.

The logos of the Song is more likely an improvisation than a score. Shifts in time signature, key, and style reflect the constant spontaneity and evolution of the dancers. The exchange is bi-directional because the indivisibility of Sound and Form cuts both ways.

I have been referring atoms in the ancient philosophical sense, not the contemporary scientific one. I am aware of sub-atomic particles, strings, and the like. Even so, at the end of the reduction, I imagine whatever is found to be indivisible is going to be moving. Depending on who happens to be observing this “atom” they might see either a medium for the transmission of the Song (i.e. an instrument) or something that appears to be dancing its ass off.

Yosemite

It was not until I was in the high country of the Sierra Nevada in eastern Yosemite that I learned to be quiet, and to slow down. Here my ears opened, my eyes relaxed, and both my gait and breath changed.

It was here that I was formally introduced to John Muir, and I sensed an immediate kinship with him and an affinity for his philosophy, his love of Nature, and his pace of Life.

That there is “a Universal Intelligence in all matter, which continually gives to it all its properties and actions, thus maintaining it in existence” is the Major Premise of chiropractic. It is the foundation upon which its philosophy of Life is grounded, and it is nowhere more evident than in the harmony and ecosphere of the mountains.

Indeed, as John Muir wrote, “the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”.

Emergence

Approximately 800 years ago the Pueblo people of Mesa Verde, in what is now southwestern Colorado, began to build sandstone dwellings in the face of the cliffs between the mesa above and the canyons below. These people were later called the Anasazi, and the reasons for why they built these structures and why they left them is a matter of interpretation.

One of the primary features of these buildings was the kiva, a circular ceremonial and multipurpose room on the lowest level. Within each kiva was a fire pit, and smaller hole, the sipapu, carved into the stone floor.

The sipapu represented the symbolic entrance to the underworld. It was the hole through which the departed soul traveled to join the ancestors, and it was also a symbolic reminder and representative of the hole through which the ancient ancestors originally emerged into this world.

The sipapu can thus be considered a “Hole of Emergence”, an element representing a mythological transition from one plane of existence to another.

The consequences of emergence are profound. The immaterial underworld that was gave way to the material world of form. New challenges and opportunities arose as a result of this transition, and these are anthropologically familiar to us: resource consumption, the natural environment, politico-social considerations, etc.

Philosophically, emergence refers to “the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems”.

The Anasazi most certainly created novel and coherent structures – the cliff dwellings that still exist today. They also created novel and coherent patterns and properties – the logistical considerations for living in cliff dwellings.

The “process of self-organization in complex systems” is an alternative definition for evolution. The fundamental feature of living organisms is that they self-organize. This is seen biologically on the level of the individual organism. It is seen in societies as the internal pressure of growing population, and the external pressure of the impact on the environment create the need for increasing levels of organization.

Emergence characteristically takes what came before, includes it, and transcends it in structure and complexity. Oftentimes, what emerges looks, feels, and acts differently than the components that went into it.

What the Anasazi did, as a mythologically attuned culture, was to create a symbolic reminder for where they came from. They chose to acknowledge and honor their roots, maintaining a sense of purpose and providing a context for a daily life unlike anything that preceded them.

Ignis Mutat Res

The pre-Socratic Heraclitus related the kosmos to an everliving fire; kindling in measures and being quenched in measures. The world, like the beings that inhabit it, are constantly in a state of flux. Changing, they stay the same. His use of contradiction and paradox, I think, was designed to transcend the dichotomy and exclusivity of a logic that had not yet been “invented” by the rational minds that followed him.

In a figurative and a literal sense, fire transforms things. It is at once destructive and constructive, varying only by the way in which it is understood and tempered. Prometheus may have introduced us to the external phenomenon, thermodynamics is introducing us to The Science of Fire, and yet perhaps our most important relationship is the measure in which fire is being kindled or quenched in our own hearts.

Conscious Language

Language is one of the most powerful faculties that we possess. Through it we think, interpret, express ourselves, and communicate. As with any other faculty it can be developed, and as with any other faculty it can be used consciously and intelligently or unconsciously and mechanically.

Language is employed by the rational mind to make sense of and to attribute meaning to what we experience. It is important to recognize that the rational mind is limited by the faculties it employs. In many ways, the freedoms and limitations of the rational mind are determined by our understanding and use of language.

For example, R.A. Wilson has pointed out that “Reality”, as a concept, has two fundamental presuppositions already built in. The word implies not only that “Reality” is a noun, but also that it is singular in nature.

It seems to be more accurate (and more interesting) to consider “Reality” as being plural and mutable. When we consider “Reality” as a relationship instead of as an entity, we realize we are in the stream of life instead of waiting from the bank for the flood or the drought to occur.

To reiterate, language is one of the most powerful faculties that we possess. All language is creative, and the extent to which we choose to acknowledge this affirmation determines the extent to which we creatively and consciously relate to the world around us.

Epictetus

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things…When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves; that is, our own judgments.” The Enchiridon (5)

Epictetus propounded the view that the human capacity for choice makes us accountable for our actions and our internal states. He referred to this capacity as “volition”. The sphere of volition is  composed of our attitudes, intentions, convictions, and actions. These are the things that define us and are ultimately the only things over which we have control. Accordingly, the freedom to govern our own nature comes with the opportunity and the responsibility to honor this gift.

For Epictetus, the freedom to make choices of our own account is an inalienable right. It is ours in virtue of being human, and affords us a kinship with the very same power that governs the universe.

Illness, Sickness, and Illusion

In Grace and Grit, philosopher Ken Wilber presents a very important distinction between illness and sickness. When a person experiences a disease, at least two interrelated but non-identical perspectives come into play. Illness is a description of a pathological or non-normal state in the body. It is material, it can be measured empirically, and it often can be medically identified. Sickness, on the other hand, is culturally defined. It refers to the meaning ascribed by the person with the illness to their current state.

Science tells us when we are ill. Culture informs us when we are sick.

Today, one of the largest challenges we face is that the American culture is sick, and this has translated into people being ill. The degree to which all aspects of life are connected is no more readily apparent than with health.

The Western mind has inherited the illusion that we consist of a separate body and mind, that we are separate from each other, and separate from Nature. The consequences of this illusion are evident as we continue to pollute our bodies, mind, and environment. As with any illusion, once it has been exposed, its power to hold sway is diminished. Behind the illusion is a universe that emphasizes unity instead of separation and cooperation instead of competition.

Consider that the way we treat our food, our water, our environment, our bodies, and our minds is the same, because we are the same. Remember that there is no such thing as a tiny act. The more conscious we are about the creative nature of our thoughts, our language, and our actions, the greater the opportunity we have to manifest a healthier life.